As Hawaii tries to boost its innovation economy, a new report indicates the state has plenty of room for improvement.
Hawaii ranks 38th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of “innovation potential,” according to WalletHub, a personal finance and credit research firm based in Washington, D.C.
Although it might be tempting to view the report as a negative, Robbie Melton, chief executive of the High Technology Development Corp., chose to accentuate the positive.
“It’s good we’re 38th,” said Melton, whose organization was established to help grow Hawaii’s commercial high technology industry. “We’re not at the bottom.”
The report comes as Hawaii legislators push to strengthen the University of Hawaii’s position as a hub for economic development with a program designed to help commercialize intellectual property created at UH.
House Bill 847 would establish the University Innovation and Commercialization Initiative Program along with a special fund to be administered by UH. The bill would let university faculty, staff and students create startups using capital from a new fund in which UH could invest money.
The bill would amend UH’s governing statute to give the institution broad powers to turn innovative research into businesses.
In general, the university could create, finance and participate in businesses that contribute to economic development using UH research and personnel. Specifically, that includes contributing equity, entering into contracts, buying securities, acquiring real estate and other activities.
A related measure, House Bill 425, would further open the door to allowing UH faculty members to become entrepreneurs. It would waive certain provisions of the state ethics code as it relates to technology transfer activities involving UH technology.
Both bills are awaiting Gov. Dave Ige’s signature.
The WalletHub report had some bright spots for the islands. Hawaii finished in a six-way tie for first place for a low unemployment rate. The state ranked fifth in terms of state budget surplus and 30th in overall “economic health.”
But Hawaii ranked last in exports per capita and 48th in percentage of jobs in high tech fields.
WalletHub based its ranking on several criteria, including share of jobs in high-tech industries; share of jobs held by science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals; the number of independent inventor patents per 1,000 working-age citizens; and entrepreneurial activity as determined by a national index of start-up activity produced.
Data came from sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and the National Science Foundation.
Melton said there is good business news coming out of Hawaii. She noted, for instance, that the founders of Maui Brewing Co. were named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Persons of the Year for 2017. And she said the state is working to enhance its broadband infrastructure.
Still, she said, Hawaii often ends up at or near the bottom of some state rankings, such as CNBC’s annual listing of top states for business. Hawaii ranked 49th overall in 2016, although it was No. 1 in quality of life. Other components of the ranking include workforce, cost of doing business, infrastructure and cost of living.
Given Hawaii’s CNBC rank – the state was 50th overall in 2015 – the WalletHub ranking isn’t so bad, Melton said.
“Thirty-eight over 50: we’ll take that,” she said.